Local theatergoers might want to remember the names of Brandon Price and Eric Wills. The two actors - one a recent Missoula transplant, the other a local high-school student - play relatively small roles in Missoula Community Theatre's new production of the classic musical, "She Loves Me," which opens Friday night at the MCT Center for the Performing Arts.
Seventeen years ago, two different actors, equally little-known at the time in the local theater scene, played those roles in MCT's production of the same musical.
But anyone who has followed the productions of MCT and its community theater since then will now recognize their names.
One of those actors was Joseph Martinez, then a recent college graduate and now the artistic director of MCT.
The other was a 16-year-old high school student named Andy Meyers. Now the artistic director at Fort Peck Summer Theatre and a graduate student in the University of Montana's drama program, Meyers returns
to MCT's stage this evening as Georg, the lead character in "She Loves Me."
In this classic romantic comedy of unlikely love and surprise connections, Meyers' return is all too fitting: This was the musical that first cemented his love affair with the theater.
"At the risk of sounding totally cliché, that show was the turning point in my life as an artist," recalled Meyers. "It was during that production that I realized that theater would be my career, not just my hobby. I feel very blessed to have grown up in Missoula, participating in MCT programs, so I can't imagine a better place to perform my dream role."
Martinez, for his part, already knew he wanted to be a theater professional when he joined MCT's staff in 1990 as a tour actor. After 15 years of working various jobs with the company, Martinez left Missoula in 2005 to take a job as founding artistic director with Arizona Broadway Theatre. He returned this past summer as MCT's first-ever full-time artistic director.
"She Loves Me" is, fittingly, the first mainstage production directed by Martinez since his return.
"This show has always had a nice place in my heart because it was so endearing to me when we did it before," he said. "It is great fun to revive it with a new cast and people in the community."
Premiered on Broadway in 1963, "She Loves Me" isn't the most familiar musical in the repertoire. Many people know its story better from one of several films: 1940's "The Shop Around the Corner," starring Jimmy Stewart; 1949's "In the Good Old Summertime," starring Judy Garland; and 1998's "You've Got Mail," starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Those films, as well as the stage musical, all share the same basis in a 1937 play by the Hungarian writer Miklos Laszlo, titled "Parfumerie."
Even if none of those titles sound familiar, few audience members will have a hard time following the plot of the musical, which tells the story of a perfume shop manager named Georg who falls in love with a penpal, only to discover that she is a loathed co-worker in the shop.
"It's so charming how the story comes together," said Martinez. "It's one of those classic little romantic comedies that I think anybody can enjoy."
Martinez said that it has been particularly pleasing to work on the production with Meyers, who, he said, "remembers everything that I've forgotten" about the MCT production 17 years ago.
As to the fresh blood in the cast, Martinez said that Price, who plays the same role that Martinez played in the previous production, brings his own brand of familiarity.
"He reminds me of me, all those years ago," said Martinez.